Southland: U-Boat – A Review

Southland: U-Boat

There’s not a more exciting day for a rookie than the day when they’re finally allowed to set out on their own. They gladly allow their training officers to nudge them from their nests, sending them out to meet the day, wide-eyed and anxious to save the world. Everything looks different to them that day. The sun is brighter. The sirens are louder. And cockiness is at its peak.

Sure, the recruits have been driving a patrol car for weeks, but nothing beats settling in behind the wheel of that same car for the first time without your FTO (field training officer). Last night was Ben Sherman’s time to leave the nest. And what a emotional first day he had—a missing child, an abusive father, and a battered woman who was the victim of an ex-boyfriend/psycho-stalker.

So how’d Ben do? We’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s deal with Lydia’s dream where she hears someone enter her house at night. She tells another member of the household to hang on to her pistol and get into the bathtub. Everyone understands why the young girl might need a pistol, but why the tub? Well, in days long gone by bathtubs were made of steel and then covered with porcelain, therefore the fixture could possibly provide some nice protection against gunfire. Don’t even think about that today. Many modern tubs are made from molded plastic, or fiberglass. However, some older homes, like Lydia’s, still have the older style, metal-based tubs.

Okay, moving on. Lydia grabs a pistol-grip shotgun from her gun safe (the safe was a nice touch), and heads toward the stairwell. Suddenly, a man steps around the corner on the floor below and she shoots him from a distance of twenty or twenty-five feet – ignore the fact that the guy she shot (remember, this was a dream) was her former partner. The wound in the guy’s chest looked like it was caused by a RPG (rocket propelled grenade). In a show that goes all out for realism, this was pretty disappointing.

A shotgun shell contains lots of tiny pellets, each about the size of a single bullet. When the shotgun is discharged, it propels each of those pellets forward, but they don’t stay together in a little clump. As they travel they get further apart. Sure, in a short distance of twenty or twenty-five feet they’d still be sort of close together, but they certainly wouldn’t rip a hole in a guy’s chest large enough to drive a Toyota Prius through, even if its accelerator was jammed to the floor. The wounds would more than likely result in a bunch of little holes in the victim, not one large Grand Canyon-like pit of mangled tissue.

As usual, the shift meeting was an accurate portrayal of an actual pre-shift muster, with officers receiving pertinent information and assignments. Chickie’s assignment for the day was to work the kit room (In some departments, this is the room where weapons and radios are stored and handed out. Some agencies also issue patrol cars from the kit room). Chickie immediately questioned the duty, and the sergeant quickly explained that she was no longer safe on the street, a statement she soon proves true when she’s re-assigned to ride with John Cooper.

Ben, John, and Chickie are seen heading to their patrol cars. Cooper tosses Ben the keys to his solo ride and tells him, “Be safe, and watch the hands.” Well, that advice is golden. A police officer should always, always, always watch a suspect’s hands. Chances are he won’t be holding a gun with his feet.

Ben answers a call where an attractive young woman complains about a stalker – her ex-boyfriend. Ben goes through the motions of filling out the proper forms to begin a paper trail on the guy. Well, the woman comes on to Ben a bit and he politely rejects the flirting, citing department rules about dating someone involved in a case. Good information here. Dating crooks and complainants can only lead to trouble down the road. Ben hands the woman his card and tells her to call 911 if the ex shows up again. He also tells her to call him if she senses danger.

Chickie and Cooper are behind a car when someone in that car tosses a bag of dope. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this sort of thing happen in real life. Why they toss it when a police car is traveling along behind them is a mystery to me. Chances are, the police officer is merely heading in the same direction and had no intention of stopping the car until the kilo of cocaine took flight. Anyway, during this high-risk traffic stop Chickie shows why she’s no longer safe on the street. She’s totally passive with the drug-throwing crooks. The woman Chickie’s attempting to arrest is not complying with Chickie’s wimpy commands. Cooper then reminds Chickie that cops should exhibit Command Presence, meaning there must be no mistaking who’s in charge. Give commands like you mean it! Those of you attending the Writers’ Police Academy this fall will have the opportunity to see exactly what this is all about. (By the way Southland fans, this event is open to everyone).

Meanwhile, Ben has moved on to searching for a missing child, a case he’s taken personally. In fact, he’d become quite obsessed with finding the little girl, which happens quite a bit in real life. Officers do take cases involving kids quite personal. Ben locates the girl after a massive search and all is well.

Back to Chickie and her woes. She spots a guy on the street with a gun. The officers stop and Chickie commands the man to stop, turn around, and place his hands in the air. Her commands are much better this time. While she’s doing this Cooper is standing to the side with his weapon drawn. Well, Chickie should have had her weapon out, too. If the guy had decided to fire there’s no way she could have drawn her pistol from its spot in the holster in time to save herself. The crook could have turned and grabbed her as a hostage before Cooper had time to react. Who knows? Now, once the guy had his hands over his head with fingers interlocked, then she should holster her weapon, while Cooper is covering her, and begin searching the thug.

Poor Chickie failed Searching For Weapons 101. She knew the guy had a gun and when she found it she stopped searching. BAD, BAD, BAD, move. It’s also a deadly move. Copper took over the search (using great procedure, by the way) and found a second weapon on the guy’s ankle. Had Chickie loaded the man into the rear of the police car with that weapon still strapped to his ankle, she may have taken her next ride in a hearse. I’ve actually seen crooks transported to the jail still carrying weapons. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Searching people for weapons is no time to be shy. You need to touch and feel every single inch of their body. The officer’s hand must find its way into every crevice and fold. Bad guys can get very creative when concealing weapons.

Ben receives a frantic call from the woman with the stalker/ex-boyfriend. She says the guy is there, so Ben calls for back up and speeds over to her house. He arrives and tried to get into the house by breaking the glass in the front door with his arm. I can say from experience that this isn’t a good move. I did the same thing once during the service of a search warrant. The command was given to GO! and I kicked the front door while other officers were doing the same to the back entrance. My door wouldn’t budge and I heard people inside scrambling around (I learned a few minutes later that the door was barricaded with a steel bar), so I broke the glass in a side window with my elbow. Well, a large piece of glass fell from the top of the window and pierced my wrist, severing a nerve. Guess what? I still have nerve damage in that hand today.

Anyway, Ben tosses a chair through a window and goes inside, pulls the guy off the woman, and then uses his fists to beat the attacker to a pulp. Back up arrives, pulls Ben off the guy, and handcuffs the stalker. But it’s too late, the woman is dead. Filled with anger and adrenaline, Ben stands up and punches the handcuffed man a couple more times, a definite no no for a cop. You never hit someone in handcuffs. In fact, cops shouldn’t strike anyone unless that’s the only means of gaining control of an unruly suspect.

Now Ben’s concerned about losing his cool. He worries about why he struck a handcuffed man. He lost his temper because he allowed the situation to become personal. Cooper delivers some excellent advice, telling Ben that a cop’s world isn’t all black and white, and that police officers live in a world of gray. Hmm…doesn’t that sound familiar? How many times have I said those very words on this blog and in my presentations?

Cops can’t save everyone. That’s a phrase that really stood out in this show, and it’s a phrase that rings true in the real world. But they try. And they try, and they try, and they try. It’s what they do, and you’re why they do it.

Again, Southland is can’t miss TV for those of you who’re seeking realistic police action.

19 replies
  1. Ben
    Ben says:

    As for Chicky’s situation, Cooper said she’s been hiding behind Dewey for years, as we know from this week’s episode Cooper believes that Dewey used to be an exceptional officer so it follows that maybe because Chicky was able to lean on Dewey’s skills so much, and for so long, that she let her own “perishable” skills spoil. She is probably able to skate by without being on top of her game because she has a partner who will pick up her slack. This may also have something to do with the fact that she didn’t do anything about his alcoholism for so long, if she had to work with someone other than Dewey her inability to control a situation may have become more evident.

  2. Ben
    Ben says:

    Hey thanks for the reviews. I was wondering, what does U-Boat refer to exactly?
    I’d have to que the episode back up to quote the line perfectly but its something along the lines of “you’ve got your book signed you’re on your own today… u-boat” I theorized that it was some sort of police slang about rolling solo. I guess my reasoning was something to do with submarines being solitary, under water you can’t exactly rely on friendly boats or ships to come to your rescue. my brother thought it had something to do with the squad car he was in but I cant speak exactly to what he was thinking there. It may have just been something cooper through out there with out much underlying lexical significance but it intrigued me and I’d love to know if anyone else has any insights on that.

  3. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    I apologize for my error in range. I actually meant to say a 6 inch or so spread at 25 YARDS… Sorry my mistake, long night :). So I felt that a 25 FT shot would have made a massive wound channel. since it looks a bit more like a large slug at 25 FT. But anyway I did feel your reviews on my absolute favorite show are on the mark again and again.

  4. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Jesse – Thanks for the insight. I understand about the 00 buckshot holding together at that distance, but that means a six inch diameter (or so) entrance wound. Not one large enough to walk through. By the way, I was merely guessing at the distance, but I think I’m probably close). I’ve seen lots of shotgun wounds in my day, from all distances, and none were like what we saw on this episode. I almost expected to be able to see the floor below through the victim, like on the old cartoons. Besides, my comment was consistent with yours. I said the pellets would remain close at this distance.

    By the way, I’m no stranger to shooting. I, too, was a police academy firearms instructor, and I’ve fired shotguns since I was a young boy. I was even a NRA certified rifle and shotgun instructor at a boy scout camp before I was 14. I also taught archery at the camp. And that was a least two or three years ago… 🙂

    Note Ron’s response above regarding deer hunting. Hmm…five feet away, Ron? Do you hunt blind and deaf deer? 🙂 Or, were you finishing off a wounded animal when you fired from 5′ away?

    By the way, it’s about time someone came up with a shotgun shell that doesn’t spread pellets at short distances. Great information. Thanks.

  5. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    Your review is great but I have to disagree with the shotgun wound. Hornaday TAP 00 buck 12ga shotgun ammunition will only spread about 6 inches or so at 25 feet. Many departments carry this type of ammunition due to the increased range pattern and low recoil, after all every pellet missed is a projectile that can harm others and thus is a liability. Before you all start screaming that I don’t know anything, I am a firearms instructor for my police department and just recently performed a demonstration with the ammo compared to regular buck shot to the administration. I also have bought this ammo personally and carry it in my shotgun at home for personal defense. Most officers like to carry the same ammo/weapons their departments have them use since they become so familiar with it.

  6. Ron Estrada
    Ron Estrada says:

    By the way, I have shot a deer at about 5 feet with 00 buckshot. It makes about a quarter sized hole! The plug was in her, too. Just in case you ever need that bit of “scientific” research. Deer shot from 20 yards with buckshot are just like you describe, scattered pellets.

  7. Rick M
    Rick M says:


    Watch their hands.

    Just like you said in your blog, Cooper’s line of advice is realistic and very true. This line really resonated with me, because I just spent got back from Calibre Press’s Street Survival Seminar. Last night when I got home, i watched Southland before even unpacking my bags. And hearing Cooper remind the rookie, “Watch his hands” hit me. It was just right. After all, I just spent two days seeing time and time again violators assaulting (and in some cases) killing police officers. And in most instances were the officer was injured or killed, the assault was sudden and the Alpha Hotel’s hands weren’t visible to the officer until the attack started.

    Watch the hands.

    That line is dead on—I just spent two days hearing that over and over. And seeing it over and over.

  8. Andy
    Andy says:

    Thanks for the insight, especially from one with the knowledge and experience to do so. I haven’t missed an episode, yet, and the hour just seems to get shorter and shorter! I really only need the edge of my seat to fix myself in front of my tube to watch this series.

  9. jkaiser
    jkaiser says:

    That “dream” was an actual event that happened is season one. Lydia was protecting that girl from the gang members that were trying to kill her due to her being a witness. So that may shed some light on why it seemes random. And I loved how Sherman took charge on his first day being alone. Ben Mckenzie was good in The O.C. but is fantastic in Southland. He shows real conviction behind his character which makes me get into his character so much. When he beat down that creep after he was in hand cuffs made me want to do the same thing. Amazing episode and amazing acting. This better get picked up for a 3rd season

  10. Mack
    Mack says:

    You’re right Lee. I let my inner English major loose on the dream sequence and forgot you’re only addressing technical issues.

  11. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Mack – I agree, it was dream, but I still feel I have to point out those things, because that’s the purpose of this blog. I’m not doing this to ding the show for mistakes. I do this so writers won’t make the mistake of thinking that’s what really happens.

    Yep, Chickie was getting a blast of tough lough, and that’s important because her weaknesses, either temporary or permanent, are things that could cause her to lose her life. She could also gt a partner killed. A good example of that was the poor search for weapons.

    Elena – I think her positing and posture were greatly exaggerated to make a point for the purpose of this episode. Still, her actions were very deadly. Her nickname…I don’t have a clue. I’m a very new fan of the show. However, I may be able to find out.

    Ron – Maybe Chickie’s lack of confidence comes from the blasting she’s getting from fellow officers for turning in her partner for his drinking problems, even though she did the right thing.

  12. Mack
    Mack says:

    In the first season her partner Dewey said that she wanted to become the first female member of SWAT and bragged that she was one of the departments stars in running desert marathons so it is hard to say when she became unsafe. I was happy to see the writers address the issue of Cooper supporting her decision to turn in her partner.

    Elena, I wondered about the nickname myself. It sounds like one that Dewey would have given her given his blatant sexism. None of the cast lists identify her as anything other than Chickie so we don’t know if it is a variation on her real first name or if it is because she is a chick in uniform. I wish Sherman would ask her where it comes from.

  13. Ron Estrada
    Ron Estrada says:

    I’ll agree with Mack. In defense of the writers, it was a dream. Weird things happen. I wonder why Chickie is suddenly unsafe. I admit I missed the first season (Netflix status: “very long wait”), so maybe there’s some back story here. She’s not a rookie, so why the fall from grace? Now to go watch my DVR’s episode. I don’t care that you give me the ending, it’s good to know your thoughts going in, so I know what to watch for. Thanks again for your time, Lee. This is priceless stuff.

  14. Elena
    Elena says:

    The photo of Chickie standing there watching made the hair stand up on my arms. She is in absolutely no position to move, one knee locked, balance uneven – what was she planning on doing if her partner had trouble, or if there was another guy or two sneaking up behind her while her total attention is focused on the action as if it were a tv show.

    But, even worse to my way of thinking, is that she allows herself to be called Chickie. I’m sorry, but there are still too many dudes who don’t think ‘the little ladies’ should be cops. Sadly, using a diminutive name can make her unsafe from behind as well as from in front.

  15. Mack
    Mack says:

    Hi Lee,
    I thought the same thing about the shotgun wound but because it was a dream I wasn’t concerned about the lack of realism. At least he didn’t fly back 10 feet from the impact. In the last episode of season one, Lydia used the same shotgun from the same position to shoot a gang member who was invading her home and then he just dropped, no exploding chest wound. I figured the exaggerated wound was a reflection of her stress and concern for her partner.

    I thought it was interesting at the end when Ben is puzzled by the reaction the other officers have to his beating the suspect. To them, he’s a hero but he doesn’t feel heroic.

    It looked to me like Cooper is treating Chickie like he’s her FTO. He used similar language to her that he used on Sherman, “maybe you are not cut out for the street”, “maybe you would be better off in a nice job like Communications.” I like to think that he is trying to help her with some tough love.

    As always, thanks for taking the time to review the show. It adds a lot to my Wednesday morning coffee break.

  16. SZ
    SZ says:

    Oh Madge, all you really need for soft hands is Polmolive !

    If you are coming to California, leave the gloves. Even up North here we have been hot.

    How many gloves is an officer keeping close ? They can be in a fire situation as fast as a blood or pat down situation …

    Have a safe trip.

  17. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:


    Perhaps it was not much of an issue in Virginia, but I should mention the primary reason for law enforcement gloves in Ohio. Cold!

  18. Bobby M
    Bobby M says:

    Hey Lee — Sorry I haven’t stopped in for a little while. I never knew that there were so many kinds of gloves that officers use. Once again, useful stuff.

    East of Eden, huh? is James going to be there?

    Anyway, safe trip and enjoy the conference.

  19. Carla F
    Carla F says:

    Don’t gloves mask one’s ability to feel details? (I can’t say that without thinking there’s an innuendo in there somewhere.) I can see the point in gloves that protect against sharps or blood-born pathogens, but is there a chance the officer would miss something if he/she wore gloves when doing a pat-down? A small razor blade or screwdriver might not be as obvious to gloved hands as to bare hands. Just wondering.

    I love the ones with the terry cloth thumb for wiping away sweat. Necessity really is the mother of invention!

    Have a safe trip!

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